Stress can rob us of our most precious sleep. But what if the bedroom — where we supposedly go to try to relax and escape the daily grind — is actually a source of some of that stress? Whether you’re looking for quick, affordable sleep makeover or full on feng shui is more your speed, today’s focus is on reducing stress (and upping the relaxation factor!) in the bedroom.
But first, what’s the big deal? So you’re stressed during the day. If you’re one of those who crashes into a deep slumber at the end of a long day, you might think you’re in the clear. But science suggests that may not entirely be true. When a group of researchers at the agency for Innovation by Science and Technology monitored sleep patterns in a group of subjects, they found that stress could impact sleep in a variety ways. Individuals who were going through stressful life events had more fragmented sleep, waking several times during the night; spent more of their time in REM sleep and a lower percentage of their time in a more restorative deep sleep; and needed a larger quantity of sleep in order to make up for the poor quality of sleep they did get. The list of issues goes on.1 Stress can be compounded by a number of factors, some of them unavoidable. And while tips for good stress management can be helpful for better sleep in general, the truth is, we could all benefit from a more restful and relaxing sleep environment.
The Bed as a Refuge
Our ancestors had more tangible night threats to contend with, from predators to environmental elements. You can imagine that the degree of vigilance required for sleeping in an exposed or inhospitable location would not be conducive to great sleep: every sound, every movement might be the harbinger of doom.
While in today’s world, very few of us must fend off prowling lions, we still have the same basic priorities in our sleep space. We sleep sounder and deeper when we feel safe and comfortable in an environment that is quiet, dark, and temperate. To achieve this optimal sleep space, we’ll focus on two priorities: getting chaos and stressors out of the bedroom and cultivating a restful environment within.
Place can carry significant emotional connections to activities and memories experienced there. Because of this, subconscious associations with the bedroom can shape our quality of sleep. First and foremost, the bedroom should be associated with sleep and relaxation. When you can’t sleep at night, don’t wallow in bed, which will only build associations between the bed and sleeplessness or even resentment. Instead, find a quiet spot outside the bedroom and away from bright lights to read or make yourself a warm drink. Do whatever you need to in order to relax until you become sleepy again.
Additionally, focus on transforming your bedroom into a relaxing environment free from stressors. Sometimes, it is better to avoid distractions such as pets at night who might exacerbate allergies or demand attention while you’re trying to sleep. Whenever possible, make the bedroom a conflict-free zone. Build positive associations by taking frustrations and conflicts outside its domain. Finally, while last week we talked about avoiding the use of electronics in the hour or so before sleep, even daytime use of certain electronics can shape how we engage with the bedroom and negatively impact our sleep. Just as early humans sought safe sleep havens beyond predators and other dangers, it is important to cultivate a space far from the reaches of work stress and the emotional roller coasters of a favorite television program.
In one Norwegian study evaluating the impacts of media use on sleep, it was found that the use of computers and mobile phones in the bedroom was associated with later sleep times and later waking times,2 both of which are connected to poorer sleep quality. Another study comparing the sleep habits of American and Italian teens found a strong correlation between adolescents who used computer games and electronics in the bedroom and symptoms of sleep insufficiency and daytime lag.3 To limit these negative impacts of electronic on sleep, keep your television and computer outside the bedroom.
Transforming Your Boudoir
The best sleep environment tends to be cool but not too cool, dark, and quiet. Last week, we touched on minimizing light distractions by implementing blackout curtains or sleep masks. Additionally, it can be helpful to use earplugs or white noise to limit sound distractions. A white noise machine emits a steady, relaxing sound that doesn’t follow a particular rhythm, like the static of a radio or the whirring of a fan. Many people find that these sounds cover other more disruptive and variable sounds like the snoring of a partner or the noise from a neighbor’s house that might otherwise interrupt your sleep.
Comfort is another important consideration. Choose a comfortable mattress and remember that most mattresses do not last more than ten years. Firmness level can be a matter of personal preference, but whatever style of mattress you choose, focus on durability and support for proper alignment. Similarly with pillows: choose a thickness and degree of firmness that supports your sleep style, but replace them regularly as older pillows can lose support and become filled with allergens. Choose a temperature that supports optimal sleep for you, and if a partner prefers a warmer sleep environment, consider using a separate sets of blankets to increase your customizability.
Finally, not all technology is bad in the bedroom. There are an increasing number of apps you can download to your phone that will turn it into a makeshift sleep-tracking device. If you’re interested in more in-depth data, a variety of devices can be purchased to monitor everything from REM cycles to oxygenation of the blood during different stages of the night. These tools can help you optimize your sleep by identifying when you sleep most deeply and when you tend to wake up. They can also help identify when it is worth getting a medical opinion for your sleep concerns.
Whatever adjustments you make, remember that what makes you feel most at ease can be highly personalized. Sometimes what is most familiar is most comfortable — you need think no further than tossing and turning on the most luxurious hotel bed to know this is true. Find what works for you, whether it’s a particular color or the relaxing smell of lavender. Whatever the case, minimize stress in the bedroom and transform it into a haven for your best sleep yet.
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1. [Vandekerckhove, M., Weiss, R., Schotte, C., Exadaktylos, V., Haex, B., Verbraecken, J., and Cluydts, R. (2011). “The role of presleep negative emotion in sleep physiology.” Psychophysiology, 48: 1738–1744. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01281.x/abstract]
2. [Brunborg, G.S., Mentzoni, R. A., Molde, H., Myrseth, H., Skouverøe, K. J. M., Bjorvatn, B., and Pallesen, S. (2011), “The relationship between media use in the bedroom, sleep habits and symptoms of insomnia.” Journal of Sleep Research, 20: 569–575. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2011.00913.x/full]
3. [LeBourgeois, M.K., Giannotti, F., Cortesi, F., Wolfson, A.R., Harsh, J. (2005). “The Relationship Between Reported Sleep Quality and Sleep Hygiene in Italian and American Adolescents.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 115: 257-265. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/115/Supplement_1/257.short]